Kronomyth 1.0: FREE AS A BYRD. Roger McGuinn’s first album is all over the map: blues, jazz, country, folk, rock, and one song performed on the banjo and Moog synthesizer (“Time Cube,” in case you’re curious). The guest list is an impressive one that includes all of the original Byrds, Bob Dylan and Bruce Johnston. And yet, somehow, Roger McGuinn was roundly ignored by fans and FM radio stations alike. It’s too bad, since the album deserves an audience (at least Brian Eno seems to have picked up a copy, to judge by the cover of Taking Tiger Mountain By Strategy). The Byrds’ albums were often eclectic affairs, and McGuinn returns to the same haunts on his own: Dylan-inspired folk rock (“I’m So Restless”), airy/jazzy David Crosby songs (“My New Woman”), songs about planes (“Draggin’) and authentic folk songs (“Heave Away”). McGuinn also steals a page from the Byrds-inspired Eagles (“Lost My Drivin’ Wheel”) and prefigures the island feel of “Don’t You Write Her Off” on “M’Linda.” Where the main Byrdman fails on his first album is in creating a clear persona. He takes pains not to try the same trick twice, and the album’s scattershot approach is its undoing. It’s an interesting record, often engaging, but I couldn’t tell you where the man’s loyalties lie after hearing this album: folk, jazz, pop, rock. This can be filed under “too smart for its own good” if you care, with a caveat that it’s too smart to ignore.
A tantalizing tag team to be sure, starring Dylan as the cranky saboteur and The Dead as his deferential backing band. We know the bard to be a creature of whimsy, enigmatic in his offhand performances of the old standards, but I had hoped that the Dead would rouse Dylan from sleepwalking through these once-green fields. Speculating that the singer couldn’t mind his wheel is nonsense, since I saw Dylan perform around this time and it was smooth sailing from beginning to end, but it was a mercurial wind that prevailed on this live outing with The Dead. The substance was there for greatness, but likely so was the substance abuse for failure. The Dead provide some pungent touches to Dylan’s music, as did The Rolling Thunder Revue (whom I’d give the nod here). The real albatross is Dylan’s voice, slurring through the words with all the conviction of a street bum, lumbering in a jagged line with the Dead at a reverential distance careful not to lap the leader. While the performance of “Joey” is easily dismissed, it did get me running to Desire again, and I’m thankful for that. But sitting through this is largely a thankless task for both factions. It does right itself some at the end with a lively version of “All Along The Watchtower” and the intriguing “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” (where Garcia had earlier knocked on Run For The Roses). Whether that’s enough of a carrot depends on how hungry you are. No doubt seeing Dylan and The Dead share a stage was worth the price of admission, but as an audio-only experience this is less than compelling. Dylan & The Dead isn’t awful, but relative to the talent in attendance (physically if not mentally) this live disc is a major disappointment.